"Rock Music Is All About Re-using Clichés"
Record Mirror 11th April 1987
Say Deacon Blue, who got their name from an old Steely Dan song. Are they just about re-packaging of old images, or have they got something new to add?
It’s a bit early in the morning for Deacon Blue. With bleary eyes, and pots of coffee all round, the reality of the rigorous touring schedule looks like it’s sunk in. It’s a hectic life for them now. Plucked from their native Glasgow to promote their debut single ‘Dignity’, Ricky Ross, Ewen Vernal and Lorraine Mcintosh are looking the worse for wear. The others, Graeme Kelling, Douglas Vipond and James Prime, are still in bed. Obviously Ricky, Ewen and Lorraine picked the short straws.
For those who are unaware of the name’s origin, Deacon Blue is taken from a Steely Dan song. The half of Deacon Blue who are braving these unthinkable early morning hours do not take kindly to my insinuations that their choice of name is just one more example of the mid-Eighties return to supergroup-type attitudes, like punk never happened. Ricky is quick to jump to the defence and highlight Steely Dan’s virtues. But then, he is no spring chicken himself. At 29, he’s not the blue-eyed, baby-fated ideal upon which chart pop is based. This isn’t saying that he isn’t good-looking. He’s just a little haggard around the edges maybe. And this is only the beginning of a host of differences that stand Deacon Blue leagues apart from the current recipient of the media infatuation with Scottish pretty boy pop.
Deacon Blue deliver their songs with passion. They deal in politics with a small p — the politics of life, It transpires that the Scottish backlash against the Postcard era was to treat everything as a joke. The form of rebellion against wimpy white boy soul was to be tongue-in-cheek.
Ricky: “I really hated that. It was such a get-out clause for all those Glasgow bands. People would say to us, ‘That was really good. You took the piss’. But we’re not taking the piss. We actually mean it. And to actually mean something, want something, say something, takes most people in Glasgow by surprise.” What are you saying? Are you political?
Ricky: “I suppose so. But not supporting Red Wedge or anything like chat. We like to show where we stand, that certain things are wrong, and certain things are right. Like, take ‘Dignity’. That is a very ambiguous song. One of the things that has really annoyed me is that everyone has been saying how good it would be if everyone had jobs. No one ever thought what it would be like if everyone worked in a hamburger joint, It’s like, so what if we are all working? How good is life then?” It’s this combination of a soulful feel (“I’d like to call it yearning. Music to slit your wrists to”) and traditional rock formats that Deacon Blue have honed down to a fine art. Ricky has even mastered the art of Americanised vocal inflections. “That’s just because of the things we listen to. I love Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.”
Hang on there, he’s Irish. “He likes to think he’s American. It was when I heard Elvis Costello singing in an American accent that I thought it was OK, that I would go for that.” Lorraine: “I loved the idea of the Proclaimers singing in Scottish accents. But when I heard them it just sounded awful. No wonder people don’t sing in Scottish accents,” Ricky: “Anyway, rock music is all about re-using clichés, It’s nothing more than an illusion of tradition and clichés.” Deacon Blue haven’t so much entangled themselves with clichés, as mixed and matched their influences. There’s Prefab Sprout in there, Van Morrison and the Smiths; and the emotive honesty of the Stax period.
Ricky: “You try to pick out certain influences and re-package them.” This doesn’t really leave much hope for the future if everyone is simply going to regurgitate the past. Ricky: “It’s not like that at all. You add your own things to the base of the clichés, and build on it.” So what have Deacon Blue done in the name of pop music? Lorraine: “Oh come on. It’s a bit early in the morning for all this.” Suffice to say, they’ve come up with a pretty impressive debut that knocks blocks off the majority of chart bound nonchalance. Jane Wilkes